It seems kind of embarrassing to admit it these days but, yes, I’m a Smith’s fan and have been since I got that first grubby 45 off of the back of a copy of NME I bought at Tower Records Phoenix back in 1984 – an event which also led to me discovering The Cocteau Twins and, in a tale best suited to a pub, having my Siouxsie collection stolen after attending a Smiths gig in sunny California. Yes, I wasn’t always going to the theater five nights a week – I used to listen to music a lot. And who better for a depressive, intellectual teen to listen to than the Smiths? I certainly wasn’t going vegetarian but I was absolutely not getting laid and I certainly didn’t have any money so I was very receptive to the Smiths message (even if I also didn’t have a clue who Myra Hindley was or what a headmaster did). I mean, hey, just when you thought everything really was shit, there was Johnnie Marr coming through like a little beam of sunshine to remind you that there are still flowers peeking through the mud after whatever devastation has wiped your emotional landscape clean. Sunny days and cemeteries, finding out getting what you want still leaves you miserable; good lessons for life, really. And, later, a good reason to laugh because it’s all so sincere and miserabilist, but still fun to sing along with as you gently mock your teenaged self.
Then suddenly it’s twenty five years later and you’re in a theater watching someone tell a story about their life during the period when they were hopelessly obsessed with the Smiths. Half a Person is a bit of a cruel concept as a show, because it’s almost impossible to be that caught up in your own emotions and not look pathetic. In William’s case, he looks far worse because his degree of being caught up in his own life means he’s entirely oblivious to the struggles of those around him – including his so called best friend. I can accept that William (Joe Presley, very yummy in his inappropriate-for-a-skint-boy Armani underpants) was unaware that his writer friend had a crush on him, but to just totally not notice he was dying of cancer? That’s beyond tragic, so far beyond that it’s comic. “Hi, yeah, really sorry I was too busy having sex and then trying to figure out why my girlfriend dumped me, but I didn’t bother looking up from my shoes long enough to notice you’d lost a lot of weight.” Wow, now that’s a best friend for you!
What’s really odd is that both of the main story lines, of the girlfriend and the friend dying of cancer, seemed to have the reality of someone’s actual experience underneath them, but added together, they weren’t enough to make William a particularly interesting character – sadly, he was a bit too much the half a person mentioned in the story title. I think writer Alex Broun probably should have picked one story or another and really gone for it, and possibly fleshed William out a little more. Unfortunately, songs seemed to take the place of plot, which just didn’t work for me. (And can I say how dreadfully obvious it was for me as a Smiths fan to have characters named William and Sheila and then spend the next half an hour just waiting for the song to start? Urgh.)
As far as plays celebrating the work of a particular band, though, this show certainly hit the nail on the head for Smiths fans. But for me, as a person whose identity is more about excellence in theater and less about staring in the mirror and wondering if I got the waistband of my cruelty free jeans arranged just right on my hipbone, it just wasn’t enough, although for the price and the time invested, I still felt it was worth seeing. But, as I said, I am a Smith’s fan; if you’re not, the show may leave you singing a different tune: “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”
(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 2nd, 2014. It continues through February 16th.)